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Not all “cause champions” are Friends

This week: Three women charged under the Public Order Act for their involvement in a collective letter delivery action in solidarity with Palestine. Meanwhile, the PAP makes Friends with "cause champions", whatever that means.

Sorry for not sending out a newsletter last weekend; I was physically and mentally wiped out and needed to spend a couple of days in bed waiting for the Kirsten battery life to cycle back to health. We’re now pretty much back to regular programming, and I (plus two plushies) will be at the Transformative Justice Collective booth at Pink Dot this afternoon, so come say hi if you’re in Hong Lim Park!


Three women were charged under the Public Order Act on Thursday for their involvement in a letter delivery action in solidarity with Palestine. Siti Amirah Mohamed Asrori, Kokila Annamalai and Mossammad Sobikun Nahar—photographed by the mainstream media in full badass glory—are accused of organising an illegal procession on 2 February. That day, 70 people, some carrying watermelon umbrellas, walked from Plaza Singapura to the Istana to deliver letters addressed to then-Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, urging his administration to take stronger action against Israel for the brutalities it’s been inflicting on Palestinians in Gaza. The police claim that was an assembly requiring a police permit—which they would never have given anyway. The three are currently out on bail of $5,000 each.

I’ve seen plenty of the predictable “why they bring foreign issues to Singapore soil”, “the law is the law”, “if you care so much why don’t you move to Palestine” trolling on social media, but there’s also been an outpouring of support for Camira, Koki and Sobi. If the state thought these charges would scare everyone into silence on Palestine, they’re sorely mistaken. Instagram and Twitter are full of "🔥🔥🔥" comments from young Singaporeans saying that these “queens” have “slayed” with “mad drip” and “served”—some even going as far as saying they have “served cvnt”. FACTS. (I knew all that time spent lurking around Gen Z K-pop stan threads was going to really pay off!)

What’s “responsible” in the middle of a genocide?
This week: the Israeli government and defence contractors are coming to Singapore to market themselves, while citizens organising peacefully to demand a ceasefire in Gaza are being investigated by the police.

A throwback to what I wrote when the police announced that they'd opened investigations.

I don’t think the PAP government fully appreciate how strongly many Singaporeans—especially young Singaporeans—feel about what’s happening to Palestinians right now, and how upset and disgusted they are about Singapore’s connection to this violence. While it’s true that it’s still a small minority engaging in this sort of activism, the law of diminishing returns also applies to state oppression: the more the police open pointless and pedantic investigations into events and actions that only attract state intervention because of overly broad, rights-violating legislation, the more they normalise the notion of getting questioned by the police. The young activists I’ve spoken to today are, if not blasé (it’s still stressful and intimidating, after all), at least less deterred by the notion of being investigated. There’s more solidarity and support and you don’t have to feel so alone. This seems to be especially the case with Gaza/Palestine because even Singaporeans who weren’t that engaged in civil society before are wanting to do something when they witness the horrors of mass destruction, murder and torture.

Statements have been published, from the Transformative Justice Collective (we're proud of our members!):

In the face of peaceful demands to act with moral courage against the ongoing genocide in Palestine, the Government has chosen to respond vindictively with criminal sanction. Such sanctions levelled against the three are also a continuation of the intimidation of peaceful support for Palestinian lives in Singapore.

The Public Order Act is a draconian restriction on the people’s right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, rights enshrined in Article 14 of Singapore’s Constitution.

Singapore Youth for Peace:

Growing up in the Singapore education system, we are always taught to be critical thinkers. […] We have been taught since young to be critical of what occurs around the world, and especially of what occurs at home. […] If our education was meant to equip us with the means to confront a complex and diverse world, then what do the charges held against the trio really mean? How can Singapore benefit from the voices our educational system so thoughtfully nurtured, when speaking truth to power continues to be discouraged and penalised to this day?

Singapore Democratic Party:

The petitioners walked in an orderly and peaceful manner to deliver a letter. How much more respectful could they have been? Even then, the Government saw it fit to crush the spirit of these young and conscientious Singaporeans.

PM Wong must take firm control of his administration and rein in his Minister for Home Affairs to stop him from further intensifying the climate of fear in Singapore.

More investigations relating to Palestine solidarity action are taking place, so we might see more charges coming in the future.


Everyone has thoughts about how samsui women should be depicted. Last week, the Urban Redevelopment Authority demanded that a cigarette be erased from a mural painted in Chinatown by multidisciplinary artist Sean Dunston, because they said it was “not aligned with Singapore’s anti-smoking policy stance”. They’d also cited a complaint from some random member of the public that the woman in the mural “looks more like a prostitute than a hard-working samsui woman”. After public uproar, URA says that they are re-evaluating their position.

Lots of people have weighed in on the mural: some say her hands look too soft and slender to be a manual labourer’s hands and took issue with her pose and expression. Others came forward in support and appreciation for the mural. Gender equality organisation AWARE at first commented that the artist’s choice to depict the samsui woman “holding a cigarette in a glamorous way […] may inadvertently perpetuate a male gaze that exoticizes female subjects”, but later followed up to say that their views “needed to be better thought out”. “It was not the right time or place for us to discuss the male gaze in relation to an artwork that some critics are challenging for spurious reasons,” they wrote in their later post, emphasising that they weren’t arguing for a singular portrayal of samsui women.

From the artist himself: “Samsui women are usually depicted on task, or in less than comfortable contexts, and much older, thought they were often young as any other workers. I was finding in all of the historical reference photos of Samsui Women, that they were candid, slice of life, and impersonal. I want to present the spirit, strength, beauty and attitude of the Samsui women to contrast the hard reality they had to endure.”

The beauty of art is that the artist can see it one way, but once the work is done there’s no predicting exactly what everyone else will see and feel. And audiences can all have different interpretations, too. Some of the comments I read about the mural aligned with mine, while others were confusing to me because I hadn’t interpreted elements of the piece in the same way the other person had. It’s what makes art interesting, and shouldn’t be grounds for censorship. Which is to say, that “unnamed member of the public” who claimed offence because they didn’t like to see a young, pretty samsui woman (apparently that makes women look like sex workers) needs to go out and touch some grass.


The PAP are trying to make Friends. About 140 of the people who attended their Refresh PAP event early this year weren’t party members, but guests known as “Friends of the PAP”. It’s not new, although this new crop of Friends sends a strong signal about PAP's desire to appeal to younger voters.

I wonder how some of these Friends see the connection, and what their motivations are. Nicholas Poh, founder of Pulse TCM, told the media that he became a Friend so that he could tap on the PAP’s network, saying that “it basically accelerates the reach” of his company since “they are very strong community-wise, so we can go from Gombak to another GRC, (and) to another GRC.”

There is little information on how one becomes a Friend and how the PAP/Friend relationship is governed. This is an area that requires more transparency, especially given the extent of the PAP’s dominance and power in Singapore. The potential for conflicts of interest is ever present, and if there’s no clarity then it’s only a matter of time before questions arise over whether this Friends of the PAP programme opens the door to opaque patronage, lobbying or cronyism.

A bit of an ad break: When I'm not working on this newsletter or volunteering with TJC, all my time is poured into Mekong Review, a quarterly Asia-focused literary magazine. I've been managing editor there for a year and a half now, producing six issues (the seventh coming in August!), and I'm really proud of us holding space for people to write independently about Asia. While subscriptions are our main bread-and-butter, we're opening a call for donations as another way for people to help us keep the magazine going. If you can, please consider a subscription (pssst, the MAR24 25% discount code is valid until 31 August) or a donation. 🙏🏼

Got some more

👷🏾‍♂️ Transient Workers Count Too have released a report about payslips for migrant workers in the construction industry. Their survey found that one in six work permit holders didn’t regularly receive payslips.

🖥️ Some recreation centres (i.e. spaces that are made to sound very nice and make it look like Singapore treats its migrant workers really well, but are in reality aimed to keep the migrant worker population segregated from the rest of Singapore) are going to be upgraded and renovated. The Ministry of Manpower is also hoping that getting external operators, like NTUC, to run such centres will improve the quality of services and facilities on offer.

💭 Academia SG’s series of essays by senior academics continues. The latest pieces are by Cherian George and Teo You Yenn, and are definitely worth reading in their entirety!

These cute fruity dudes will be volunteering with me at the TJC booth this afternoon!

Thank you for reading! As always, feel free to forward this weekly wrap to anyone you like, and spread the word about this newsletter!